A beautiful little escape from the hustle and bustle of Barcelona. Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey is situated on the mountain of Montserrat, around 45km from Barcelona. It was built in the 10th century and is still a functioning monastery, as well as a stunning place to visit if you're in Catalonia.
In August we spent a week in Catalonia, visiting Barcelona and Girona. While staying in Barcelona, we decided to take a day trip to Montserrat after seeing images online of this stunning spot. We were not disappointed, and were amazed by the spectacular views, architecture and beauty of the Abbey.
Getting to Montserrat
We hired a taxi from our hotel to the Montserrat car park, which took around 45 minutes. The drive up the mountain gave great views but it has sharp twists and turns so be prepared if you are prone to motion sickness.
You can also get there by train which involves a cable car ascending up the mountain which we took on our way back to Barcelona. The cable car is comfortable with great views, and the whole journey from Barcelona takes around an hour and a half. Here is more info on getting to and from the Monastery.
Hiking in Montserrat Nature Park
Upon arriving, we found an information centre and picked up a map for hiking. It was over 30 degrees centigrade and a lot of the walking is uphill, so if you're there on a warm day remember to have water with you. We decided to do the walk towards St Michael's Cross, which took around 45 minutes each way. The journey to the Cross is stunning, with magnificent views opening out as you get closer. The Cross itself is impressive in size, and a great place for a well deserved break on the steps. Around the Cross is a viewing platform which is perfect for pictures.
We could have walked further uphill to the top of the mountain but the heat was intense and we wanted to get lunch and see the Abbey. Tip: Remember to stick to the trails to protect the vegetation, and there are lots of photo opps along the way, so bring your camera! Also bring lots of water with you, it can be a strenuous trek.
Lunch on the mountain
We didn't find loads of options for lunch apart from a couple of expensive restaurants. Since we really just wanted a sandwich we stopped at the canteen at the Mirador dels Apostols building next to the car park. The canteen has great views and also outdoor seating, and we had sandwiches and snacks while overlooking the cliffside. There was also a hot food buffet on the lower level of the Mirador dels Apostols building which looked good. Unless you want a sit down meal in a fancy place this is probably the best way to go, or bring a packed lunch.
The Montserrat Basilica
After lunch we headed to the Basilica which is a Church situated next to a large square. The architecture all around the square is beautiful and intricate, with large arches which provide great viewing platforms. We walked through the Atrium, which is a courtyard area with an amazingly detailed marble floor. The Atrium is the perfect place to admire the face of the Basilica.
The Church itself is lined with candles and sculptures of prophets, and we took time to sit and observe it's beauty. There are chapels around the sides of the church and stained glass windows behind the chapels. It's the perfect place to soak up the history of the Monastery.
The Black Madonna
Many go to Montserrat to get a glimpse of the famous Black Madonna or 'The Virgin of Montsserrat', a wooden statue which sits high above the altar. You can see this sculpture from the pews but we went upstairs to get a closer look. We did have to wait in a line for around 20 minutes but it moves quite quickly and it's worth the wait. As we got closer to the sculpture we realised that many people were touching and kissing her left hand, which is not covered by glass like the rest of her body. This is meant as a tribute to the Virgin.
After leaving the Black Madonna we walked through the Ave Maria Path, a spiritual path of candles which have been lit as a prayer to the Virgin Mary. It was a warm feeling to light our own candle and place it inside the wall of light, and it's also nice to make a donation to the Church which is well taken care of.
After a long day on the mountain we travelled by train back to Barcelona to have dinner in the city. If you're in Catalonia we thoroughly recommend visiting Montserrat and it's beautiful Church!